Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Thanks, Lafayette! Happy Fourth of July

cross-posted from Dagblog

I've come back from a month overseas in time for the Glorious Fourth. I'm happy to have spent it back in my native land, in my own back yard, grilling a holiday meal. It would have felt a bit odd to extend my European adventure past Independence Day, or to celebrate it outside America. There's only one day a year when cooking a burger feels like an act of national solidarity, and only one day when listening to John Philip Sousa feels like a pleasure. I like spending that day in the States. And spending it anywhere else feels slightly unpatriotic.

But it shouldn't. The Founders spent a lot of their time abroad, and the Revolution would never have succeeded and the early Republic would not have thrived without the time that the Founders spent lobbying in foreign capitals. Ben Franklin's Big European adventure was indispensable to the cause; we would never have made it without such a skilled diplomat in Paris. And frankly, we would never have made it without French help: French money, French troops, and the French fleet that finally bottled up Cornwallis at Yorktown. Washington didn't go abroad during the war, for obvious reasons, but France came to him, most notably in the form of Lafayette.

The story of American independence is the story of underdog frontiersman standing up to a great empire, and Americans are justly proud of that. But it was never quite a story of those underdog colonists doing it all by themselves, and we do the Revolutionary generation an injustice when we distort the history. Independence does not mean some kind of survivalist self-reliance. We would not have achieved independence without allies.

Some latter-day fans of the American Revolution use it to point to dubious virtues that the Continental Army did not share: a belief in never accepting outside aid, a nationalism that verges on xenophobia, a reflexive contempt for "Old Europe." But none of those "Tea Party" values were values of the actual Founders. They were patriots, but not parochial, colonists but also surprisingly cosmopolitan. Jefferson and Franklin might have been the icons of the Virginian countryside and of burgeoning Philadelphia, but they were very much at home in Paris, a city that loved them and received their love.

So, today I'd like to give a few thoughts for American internationalism: a part of our oldest national heritage, and a value without which our nation would have no heritage. God bless America, and God bless her many friends abroad. And merci beaucoup to Lafayette, our Founding Ally.

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